This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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Lunch in Stockholm

stadshusetQuick snapshot of the City Hall after a lunch with the Mayor of Stockholm. Although I must confess I did not know she was the Mayor until much later – this due to the confusing title she has in Swedish (I just thought she was a senior council member). And I sat opposite to her. Oops.

Usually I don’t make such a miss because I depend on my excellent governmental affairs colleagues who brief me before every meeting. I am terrible at trying to follow the politics of any of the Nordic countries I work in – including my own. Instead of being thankful that I live in a democracy and actively participating, I try to exclude politics from my life. How very privileged and ungrateful.

(Stockholm, Sweden; April 2017)

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Blue for Kathmandu

fundraisingThere was cocktails, and delicious food. There were people dressed up all lovely. There was live music – and an auction to support our orphans in Kathmandu. And the location was probably the most contrasting to the cause: the “home” of Absolut Vodka, in Stockholm.

We toured the “apartment” (which really was an apartment, save for the kitchen, because no rock stars and artists staying here ever have time to cook). There was a bedroom with a floor-covering bed, and a bathroom with televisions from a U2 concert. And a studio. Of course. The staff were fiercely proud of the place, to the extent that they had been insulted by our question if it was possible to serve beer at the bar (only Absolut cocktails were ever going to be served!).

And I could not help but think of the kids in Kathmandu who had probably never tasted Absolut vodka. To whom a brand, an image, of an alcoholic beverage is not worth a rupee. I thought about the absurd abstraction of building a luxury party home for a distilled rye beverage that melts your brain and crisps your liver. And how we worship images, whether they were religious or consumables that we most likely do not need.

I work in the pharmaceuticals and health technology industry; a branch that also has been heavily criticized. Sometimes with reason. But I know we save lives and make people’s lives better. I could not say the same if I worked for Absolut. And yet, because of my lovely friends and the people at Absolut Atelier, we were able to raise a significant sum of money for the kids in Kathmandu; enough for a few years to come.

Maybe Hamlet was right. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

(Absolut Atelier, Stockholm, Sweden; March 2017)

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Cante y baile

barcelona-2After 10 years, it was still there. In the vaults of an old building at Placa Reial. Of course it was, since it’s been there since the 60s. Still as fresh and interesting – and a little freshened up as well.

But this time there was not only baile (dancing) but also cante flamenco, singing. And oh, what singing! It was grief, longing, and despair vocalized. Intense pain and saudade shoved through a microphone into the speakers and making the air in the club vibrate and my hair stand on end.

Before we left, the crying turned into an impromptu party: the stage was invaded by a bunch of visitors, kicking off their shoes and joining the show in jeans with bare feet. It turns out one does not need the step-shoes or the frills-dress to put on the airs of flamenco passion.

(Barcelona, Spain; March 2017)

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12 hours in Barcelona

barcelona-312 hours off in Barcelona on a Sunday. What a gift. Even with serious flight delay as the entire Schiphol airport was shut down because of one person getting ill in one plane on one runway.

Bu afterwards, there was sun and a grilled lunch by the Barceloneta. With Spanish wine, a friend whom I’ve never met in the same country twice, and later, digging our toes in the beach sand.

In the evening there was pintxos in the Gothic Quarters and more friends, including another one I seldom meet in the same country twice. And a blues bar with a huge fat tough-looking man who opened his mouth and sang like an angel.

Barcelona, it took a few visits (and one pickpocketing) but now I really do like you a lot. barcelona-1(Barcelona, Spain; March 2017)

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abovespain-3When I think of Spain I never think of mountains. But they are right there, if I would wander deep enough inland. abovespain-2When the rest of the world thinks of beaches and sangria and sun-kissed villages, there is surprisingly much snow up North. Now I understand why the Great Pyrenees dog breed is so white and fluffy. abovespain-1(Above the Pyrenees, Spain; March 2017)

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Last spring

ice-2Today is a decently warm summer’s day. Just three months ago my home shore looked like this: broken ice crackling against the rocks. Impatient kayakers trying to navigate the slushy waters. A “lifestyle indian” (as we would say in Finnish) enjoying the first warming rays of the sun. ice-1We hardly had any snow that winter, but spring was cold. REALLY cold. Snow on the night before May Day. Unusually much snow in Lapland in June. 11 degrees Celsius and windy on the first day of June. Global warming is upon us, wise people say. But who knows if it means we will actually feel the warmth. Maybe temperatures just even out into in-between seasons all year round? How awful that would, Finland; March 2017)

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Interlude: women in business

cityhallDinner and networking at the Helsinki City Council. One woman wore red, I wore blue, and the rest wore dark. Mostly men in suits. This is what it is like to be a “woman in business”.

I work mainly with men in suits older or far older than I. Yet most of the time I am the one in a power position, because of my job. It was odd at first, especially to challenge team leads in beards and gray hair when I was barely 30 years old. Today I barely think of it. And if I do, it is to use it to my advantage: a younger woman often obtains information and influence easier, because she is perceived to not be a threat. And I seldom pay for my drinks.

But I still feel uncomfortable. In particular, in the airline lounge on a Monday morning, when I am one of the handful of women in there, and usually the only one in jeans. I gave my sister a give-away elite tier card. After her first visit to the lounge alone, on a workday morning, she looked at me with huge eyes and proclaimed she had felt like she was being exhibited. This is also what it is like to be a “woman in business”. Even here in relatively gender-equal Finland.

It is not always about the pay. It mostly is about the mundane, minor things. Because these are the subconscious, left-unseen signals that give away the conditioning of our minds.

I do not aspire to become a man – quite the contrary. I was very happy I was not wearing a dark suit at that dinner party. I only hope I will never feel that I am expected to become a man in order to get along better.

(Helsinki, Finland; March 2017)